Work-Related Deaths Are on the Rise in Massachusetts - Surviving Spouse and Dependents May Be Eligible For Compensation

Just a few weeks ago the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) released a report titled: Dying for Work in Massachusetts, which indicates that 2016 marked a 10 year high in work related fatalities. The numbers of work related deaths has been steadily increasing since 2012 in Massachusetts. In 2012 there were 32 work related deaths compared to the 70 work related deaths reported in 2016. Massachusetts is not the only state seeing this increase. Nationally, deaths on the job hit a seven year high in 2015. Many of the workers, who lost their lives on the job in Massachusetts last year, were involved in construction accidents. The report also states that, so far in 2017, the construction industry accounts for nearly 40% of job related deaths.  

In Massachusetts, the surviving spouse or dependent(s) of an employee, who died in a work related accident or from a work-related illness, may be entitled to certain workers’ compensation benefits. Additionally, the decedent’s family members may also have the rights to file a wrongful death negligence lawsuit.

Workers’ Compensation Basics

Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance policy that employers in Massachusetts are required by law to purchase and carry for their employees. If an employee is injured in a workplace accident, the workers’ compensation insurance policy offers disability benefits and medical benefits to the injured worker as well as some other benefits. Workers are covered by insurance no matter how long they were employed by the employer or how many hours they workers per week. It must be proven, however, that the injured worker was actually an employee.

If a worker is injured on the job and the injury prevents the employee from working, he or she is entitled to either temporary total disability benefits or temporary partial disability benefits, depending on the extent of the injury and disability. Furthermore, the injured employee is also entitled to medical benefits, which will cover the cost of all medical treatment that is related to the injury suffered on the job and deemed to be reasonable and necessary treatment.  

Workers’ Compensation Benefits are Available if an Employee is Fatally Injured on the Job

Workers’ compensation insurance offers death benefits or financial benefits and cost of living benefits for the surviving spouse or dependent(s) of the fatally injured worker. The claimant for workers’ compensation death benefits is required to show that the worker’s death resulted from an injury that originated in some aspect from the employment. For dependents to be entitled to the death benefits, it must be established that the dependents or next of kin were reliant upon the deceased employee’s pay for their support.

The death benefits a surviving spouse or dependent may be eligible for include benefits for reimbursement of burial expenses, currently up to $4,000, and weekly workers’ compensation benefits. The weekly workers’ comp death benefits calculated as two-thirds (or 75%) of the deceased employee’s average weekly wage. Massachusetts does set a cap on the weekly death benefits.

The Deceased Worker’s Family May Also Have a Claim for Wrongful Death against a Third Party That Caused the Accident and Death

The surviving spouse or other family members may have another legal avenue to obtain additional monetary compensation for the death of their loved one on the job, other than workers’ compensation. This would be a third party wrongful death claim or lawsuit against a negligent third-party that caused the accident that resulted in the employee’s death.

Massachusetts law prevents an employee from suing their employer. Therefore, a wrongful death lawsuit cannot be filed against the employer, but must be asserted against a third party. It must be established that the third party was negligent and that the negligence caused the death. For instance, if an employee is working on a road construction job and is hit and killed by a third party, who was speeding and distracted while driving his or her car, the deceased worker’s family may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the third party.

A wrongful death lawsuit offers compensation above what is available to the surviving spouse and dependents from worker’ compensation. The financial compensation sought in a wrongful death lawsuit includes the loss of reasonably expected earnings of the deceased worker, conscious pain and suffering for the time between the injury and the death, and possibly punitive damages.

Know Your Legal Rights if Your Loved One Is Fatally Injured On The Job

If you have lost a loved one in a work related accident in Massachusetts, you should seek legal advice from an experienced injury attorney. You should know your legal rights and the benefits or other compensation available for certain family members. Mahaney & Pappas, LLP specialize in both personal injury and workers’ compensation and can help answer your questions and explain your legal rights.

We offer free, no-obligation meetings and case evaluations. Call us today at (508) 879-3500 or contact us online. We are happy to sit down with you and review your legal matter. 

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